Allegri & Palestrina: Lamentations

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Composer: Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina, Gregorio Allegri
Artists: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Timothy Brown (conductor)

This recording brings together music composed in a variety of contrasting yet complemetary forms, from Gregorian chant to more elaborate, polyphonic music, set to words that explore the rawest human emotions, death, sin and repentance. The death of a loved one is a particularly distressing experience, and over the centuries composers have chanelled their grief into their most moving and emotional works. In the 1850s Brahms composed the German Requiem after he lost his mother, and Fauré’s Requiem was also composed after his mother died. Britten produced the imposingly bleak and Mahlerian Sinfonia da Requiem after the death of his parents. In this recording, the grief of Mary, the mother of Christ, is portrayed in Palestrina’s masterful setting of the Stabat Mater, composed for Pope Gregory XIV. Another moving portrayal of grief is Weelkes’s intimate depiction of the pain of David upon learning of his son Absalom’s death, When David heard.

Allegri’s Miserere concerns the belief in a higher power and the submission to it. Set to Psalm 51, the work was recognised by its composer and the Vatican as being of such beauty that its publishing was forbidden. No score was to leave the Papal Chapel. But then there was Mozart..

The incredible story of how Mozart came to copy down Allegri’s Miserere, note for note, after hearing it just once in 1770. Once it’s heard though, never forgotten. That soaring high C, mortifying for the boy treble who has to reach it, makes it one of the most sublime pieces of choral music ever.
But the piece was once closely guarded, only ever sung during the days of Easter within in the hallowed confines of St. Peter’s Rome – and never published for performance anywhere else. In 1770, who should arrive at the Vatican for Easter but 14-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? The city was captivating. He was overawed by St Peter’s, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest impression was made on him by that piece of music. When he returned to his lodgings — where he had to share a bed with his dad and was getting no sleep at all – Mozart wrote the entire piece out from memory, perfectly. Here’s where some people begin to doubt the story – for how could a 14-year-old remember an entire choral composition, consisting of five voice parts, that he had only heard once that day? It does seem a little implausible. But let’s remember that Mozart wrote his first composition, a charming Minuet and Trio in G major, aged five. It is also said that after having transcribed the piece, the young Mozart went back to St Peter’s to hear the work again, probably the same week, to compare his own score with the sung version.

Sit back, Enjoy and tell us what you think!

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